Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Brazil Lawmakers to Tackle Impunity for Police Killings

From abusive crackdowns on protests to forced disappearances, police violence in Brazil has been making headlines in recent months. Tomorrow, however, lawmakers in Brazil’s lower house could take an important step in reining in the illegal use of deadly force by law enforcement officers in the country.

While human rights groups have been campaigning for years around the issue, the struggle against police brutality in Brazil has been difficult.  Brazilian police remain shielded by a dictatorship-era mechanism that allows them to record deaths as the result of suspects resisting arrest, or “autos de resistência.” Once registered as such, offending officers benefit from procedural barriers to investigations and a larger institutional culture of impunity.

This has taken a toll on disadvantaged communities in the country. As the Brazilian Public Security Forum (FBSP) noted in its latest annual report, over the past five years police in the country have killed at least 11,197 people, an average of six people per day.  This is more than United States police have killed in the last 30 years, despite the U.S. having a population roughly 50 percent larger.

As news site Ponte reports, the new bill would reinforce the responsibility of prosecutors to investigate deaths in police custody, regardless of the official explanation. While security experts consulted by the site concede that the bill won’t end extrajudicial executions altogether, most see it as a positive step that will focus more attention on the issue.

The bill is set to come to a vote tomorrow, December 10, Human Rights Day. According to the lower-house head of Brazil’s Communist Party -- one of the primary supporters of the measure -- the chamber is expected to pass the measure on to the Senate. Poder Online notes that the all last month, Afro-Brazilian and human rights NGOs carried out lobbying efforts on behalf of the initiative.

In a final push, yesterday a coalition of Brazilian civil society organizations released a joint letter supporting the law and listing ten reasons for its passage. The group --which includes human rights NGO Conectas, Afro-Brazilian rights group Educafro and the São Paulo state ombudsman’s office -- point to widespread condemnation of “autos de resistência” from domestic and international human rights offices, as well as the disproportionate impact of police violence on youths of color in poor neighborhoods.

News Briefs
  • Jorge Hage, the head of Brazil’s federal anti-corruption agency, announced that he would be retiring yesterday. As O Globo reports, Hage took the opportunity to criticize recent budget cuts to the institution, claiming they made it harder for it to function properly. The AP notes that the resignation comes amidst the unfolding Petrobras scandal.
  • Following Sunday’s announcement that an Austrian lab had matched discovered remains to the DNA of Alexander Mora, one of the missing 43 students of Ayotzinapa, the New York Times reports on the grief-stricken reaction of the victim’s relatives. According to the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), which first shared the laboratory results with the families on Friday, the first victim was identified relatively quickly because his remains were more intact than others. Continued identification will take time. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam has said that because of the poor state of the remains officials may “never” identify the total number of victims, as El Universal reports.
  • Plaza Publica has an update on the genocide and crimes against humanity case against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt and ex-intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez. While the trial is still due to restart on January 2015, the site notes that Rodriguez has paid bail to face the charges in freedom, and that Rios Montt remains under house arrest.
  • The push for the U.S. government to sanction Venezuela for human rights abuses is gaining momentum. Yesterday the Senate voted to pass a bill that would deny visas and freeze the assets of officials associated with this February’s wave of opposition protests. While the House of Representatives passed a similar bill in May, this version calls for a more limited number of targets. According to the Miami Herald, the House now has to pass the Senate’s version before it before it adjourns this week or risk starting the process over from scratch in January. If it does President Obama will likely support the measure, as the administration has recently indicated it would work with Congress on issuing sanctions.
  • La Silla Vacia has a takedown of Alvaro Uribe’s claims that the FARC are calling for a series of major concessions in order to resume the Havana peace talks.  The Colombian news site notes that the government has dismissed these claims as rumors, and that the scope of the alleged demands is far out of step with the guerrillas’ recent negotiating posture.
  • The Guardian reports on the murder of an Ecuadorean indigenous land rights leader, who was killed just days before his plan to take his cause to the protests outside the ongoing climate talks in Lima.
  • According to El Pais the six former Guantanamo Bay detainees in Uruguay are still under medical evaluation, though they are expected to be released soon.  Officials claim that the six showed no signs of malnutrition, anemia or breathing problems. This despite reports -- see this Global Post piece -- that one of the men was on a hunger strike recently in protest of his conditions.  Once the six have been released from hospital, the Uruguayan government has been very clear that they will be free to move as they please.